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January 10, 2010

Elmer fled prison for bride-to-be in England

Nottingham has never forgotten the GIs who camped in Wollaton Park before going off to war on D-Day, and in March a memorial will be unveiled in their memory. ANDY SMART spoke to a returning hero of the 508th.

Elmer Melchi was one of the Iucky ones - the GI from Colorado survived the Normandy invasion, the Arnhem debacle and capture by the Germans. He returned to his home in the shadow of the Rockies with three bullets lodged in his body... and a beautiful Nottingham bride on his arm.

In a few weeks, he will be back in the city for the unveiling of a memorial to the 82nd Airborne, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were camped in Wollaton Park before they flew to France in June 1944.

Elmer will be with wife June, the Radford girl he met at the American RED Cross HQ in the Albert Hail --- and defied US Army rates to marry in 1945.

“I was freed from a German POW camp by the Russians.”

“I had been wounded trying TO escape so I should have gone straight back to the States.”

"Instead, I made my way to England and to Nottingham to marry my girl."

Sixty-five years later, they are proud grandparents.

Speaking from their home in Colorado City, June said, “They said it wouldn't last,"

"It was love at first sight,” interrupted her husband.

Elmer and his buddies of the 508th arrived In Nottingham on March 14 1944. They were struck by the beauty of the park with its castle and loved the local entertainment.

Elmer said, "I remember the Gregory - my wife's mother worked there."

June, formerly Miss Lloyd of Bedford Boulevard, said, "You have to admit, we gave you all a wonderful welcome.”

"Nottingham took you guys in. We were proud of the 82nd.”

There were no arguments from Elmer, who explained what happened next.
“We landed in France; it was a bit of a mess. We had a lot of casualties … and then jumped into Holland and lost more. "I got captured and taken to a POW camp in the north. One night bombers flew over, heading for Berlin and Stettin.
The guards were distracted and I thought, ‘this is my chance', but I didn't make it.
"I was shot four times and I still have three bullets in me."

Elmer and June were married on June 16. 1945, and then headed to the picturesque Colorado City. They have four sons – one served three tours in Vietnam in the 1970s.

The couple have returned to Nottingham several times to see family and June insists: “It is lovely over here but I am still a Nottingham girl. There is no place like home.”

Elmer and June will be at the event in Wollaton Park on March 14. Elmer read about it in Diablo, the 508th regimental association newsletter.

  War memories are recalled

War memories are recalled

Like so many Second World War veteran groups the 508th has its own website full of photographs and memories of those extraordinary days.

This is an extract of Gl Joseph M Kissane, from New Jersey: "In England six-man tents had been erected for us at Wollaton Park, a suburb of Nottingham, Robin Hood's old hangout. It included a castle and deer herd.

"That first night a few of us early arrivals visited a local pub. The women were enthralled. Their husbands had been sent to faraway places years ago.

“Gallagher always knew which pubs had the beer and gin. The locals were polite and respectful despite us acting like clowns.

“They would sit quietly nursing a beer while we tossed the pounds around spilling the warm sourish beer on ourselves.

“English entertainment, lots of laughs. A special importation, Tillie from Birmingham. Middle-aged. No front teeth, emoting Cockney songs.”


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